When ADHD Disrupts (and Ruins) the Romance

Distractability subverts romance and eroticism, but ADHD and sexuality can absolutely co-exist in a healthy relationship. Learn how to revive intimacy, intrigue, and excitement with your partner.

Two hands of adults with ADHD forming a heart shape as they work through their marriage problems.

ADHD and sex: It’s a topic almost no one writes about, even though almost every adult with ADHD I’ve treated has had an ADHD-related sexual problem. One of the most common complaints is a lack of sexual intimacy. By this, I don’t mean no sex, but sex that doesn’t foster genuine emotional intimacy.

Good sex is possible only if both partners in an ADHD marriage feel relaxed and playful — and are capable of shutting out the outside world to savor the moment. That isn’t easy for adults with ADHD. How can a man who has trouble “lingering” enjoy sex? How can a woman focus on receiving or giving pleasure if she is thinking about repainting the living room or processing e-mail?

Sexual ennui is another big problem. Adults with ADHD thrive on excitement in all things, and that includes their relationships and their sexuality. As a romantic partnership matures, and passion inevitably ebbs, someone with ADHD may lose interest in sex and move on to other activities or other people who are more stimulating. Boredom with sex is one reason for the high rate of divorce among couples affected by ADHD.

In some relationships, a lack of sexual intimacy reflects a power struggle. Typically, the partner without ADHD will begin to assume ever-greater control of shopping, finances, parenting, and everything else that goes on in the household. At some point, she starts to resent having to “do all the work” and nags her spouse.

Meanwhile, the partner with ADHD starts to feel more like a child than a lover. This creates a dual problem: The spouse without ADHD builds up so much resentment that sex doesn’t sound like much fun, while the other partner’s growing view of his spouse as a parent diminishes his own sexual interest. And so, energy that was once devoted to sex gets channeled into hobbies and other nonsexual pursuits.

[Watch This Expert Webinar: ADHD Between the Sheets: Strategies for Improving Your (Distracted) Sex Life]

Do you spend a big portion of each day reminding, coaxing, or goading your partner — or vice versa? If so, odds are, you’re in one of these frustratingly anti-erotic relationships.

In other relationships, the issue is poor time management.

Maybe one partner is in the mood, while the other is sound asleep. Or maybe one is waiting expectantly in the bedroom while the other is Googling the latest stock quotes. (One patient of mine calls her husband’s computer his “plastic mistress.”) Sadly, these couples often assume that some underlying conflict is keeping them from having sex, when what they actually have is a scheduling problem.

No matter what issues you face, the first step toward resolving them is to understand that ADHD plays a major role in how you relate to each other sexually. Step two is to acknowledge that the problem is likely to be biological in nature, rather than emotional. In other words, it’s not that you don’t love each other. It’s that ADHD-influenced bad habits get in the way.

[Read: 12 Ways to Save Your Most Important Relationships]

The spouse with ADHD needs to learn how to linger. Practice in nonsexual settings — for instance, talking with your spouse over a cup of coffee, or visiting a museum together — before trying out the skill in the bedroom. And both spouses need to let go of resentments and work to rebalance their relationship. A skilled therapist can help with these issues. If you’re enmeshed in the parent/child pattern I described, it’s essential to start sharing responsibility for organization, child care, money, and so on. Gradually, romance will reawaken.

3 Ways to Boost Intimacy in an ADHD Marriage

  • Touch each other. Every day, do something that connects you physically to your partner: Hold her hand, wash her hair, massage his sore feet, and so on. Be sure to hug each other, too.
  • Make regular dates with one another-no matter how busy you are or how children seem to get in the way. Set your alarm clock 10 minutes early each morning, and use the time to cuddle and share positive emotions.
  • Send romantic notes. Place them where your partner will happen upon them-in his briefcase, for example, or on the bathroom mirror.

[Read This Next: How to Keep the Romance Alive]

13 Comments & Reviews

  1. I started to read the article as well just an excuse for bad relationship, but then so many things that were said in the article are exactly what happened in my last relationship I have it she did not. After reading the Articles I kind of feel guilty about the relationships and what went on, before you didn’t know and I just made excuses of why things happened now you understand a lot of it is because of me or us with the issue.

  2. My 6yr relationship with ADHD partner has been tough when it comes to sex. He never compliments me or looks at me in a sexual way. I even thought he was gay in the early days. Out of the blue every now and then he instigates sex and it’s very physical and intense. It’s average once a month if that can even go to two. We are both in our forties and I’m really struggling. I’m I think an attractive woman and I enjoy sex and fancy the pants off my partner. I have tried instigating and get turned down with excuses of too tired, haven’t had shower etc. I have tried being loving and cuddly without instigating.. I have tried just walking around house in evenings in feminine sexy nighties without being obvious, I have tried just not being sexual at all, I have tried being fun and flirty…. nothing works.. just that very one off time and a short burst of passionate sex and that’s it TIL the next time. He claims to fancy the pants off me if I ask …but really?? Even when we have been out for the evening to a do and I know I’m looking a million dollars, not even a compliment. I feel so lonely. I have mentioned all of this and he says it’s a turn off that I mention it…. he’s on no meds and won’t take any… smokes pot occasionally to self medicate… which I struggle to accept but I shut up and say nothing. I feel dead inside…

    1. I have had literally the same experience with my husband! It’s horrible. I’m at the end of my rope and am contemplating leaving. The constant rejection and lack of any interest has gotten my self image so low, I don’t think this will ever seem like a fulfilled relationship. Btw, we tried having him take on some of the responsibility(bills, etc) rent was late multiple times. I feel like I’m “mom” to a giant manchild.

      1. I am the ADHD partner in our relationship. We are going on 7 years together, and I am really struggling to meet his expectations. My partner was 2 years fresh out of a very severe back injury when we first met, and he now lives in chronic pain, especially in the rainy season (we live in NorCal). So that is one part of his low interest in sex – he’s in pain. But he still gets up and goes to work. The other more disappointing part I’m struggeling with is his expectation of me to not be the artist I am, and pick up a “real” job (40 hours, benefits) so I can remove some financial burden. I was a “starving artist” when we got together, and while I’ve had “real” jobs in the past, and I’m trying to get another job in the same field that pays well enough to make it worth my while, it takes time to get a job with a municipality (where I’m putting my efforts due to his encouragement/insistence/nagging). I say all this because I’m in a position that makes me feel like I’d be so much more sexually desirable to him if i made more money and the finances were distributed more equally. He’s Ihad plenty of girlfriends in his past who were from rich families and had no money struggles.
        Also – when we met, I was a dominatrix at a playhouse that he had been frequenting for 20 or so years. That type of work was very fulfilling for me – sexually adventurous (and safe), varied, short-term, lucrative. I wasn’t getting rich by any means, but I was able to support my life and I truly enjoyed the work and community. He was one of my clients, and we hit it off fast but once we became exclusive and more serious, he said my involvement with erotic arts put a damper on our intimacy. OK i get that. So now I don’t do sessions, don’t make that money, and still can’t find the “sweet spot” to get him to initiate sex. My solution has been Prozac for my depression (have a long history of depression) which also deadens the libido. So i don’t want sex either. Lucky for me, when I’m in my bathrobe and sweats and big slippers, he thinks I’m donning my “sex kitten outfit” LOL!

    2. I’m sure my boyfriend of 8 yrs would relate 2 u..he’s always complaining about not having enough sex and thinking I don’t love him, which I do very much! You say you’ve tried all sorts of diff angles and that’s great! It’s really all you could do tho right? I’m always telling my bf I wished he’d just try getting close 2 me, like as in coming n cuddling w me rather than always leaving it up 2 me 2 initiate it. Anyway since I have no idea what it’s like to have a partner try other angles the only thing I can suggest is looking into the link between ADHD & dopamine deficiency & also the supplements that increase dopamine. I’ve learned that low dopamine is linked with ADHD and also low sex drive so if u guys can work on that maybe your prob can be solved.

    3. I’m in the same thing. I feel so invisible to him. He never wants to touch me and that makes me feel a certain way because I’m almost 20 years younger than him so you think he would be all over me. I’ve tried snuggling, touching, putting on sexy nightys nothing can catch his attention. I’ve always been shy but he has destroyed any self-confidence I had. I’ve done my research from day one on dating someone with adhd and ordered books but it still upsets me. Our sex life has been like once every couple of months. We have been dating a little over a year and I just don’t know. Maybe I’m not good enough? Maybe someone else would be better for him? Then to top it off he never compliments but yet he told his ex how sexy her body was. Then there’s messages to other girls about bending them over his car. I don’t think he’s cheated I just think its a dopamine release but then at night when he’s going to sleep its stuck in my head why don’t he want me? does he want her? I’m a mess my stress levels are through the roof. But I couldn’t imagine life without him I do love him but I would never tell him that.

      1. I can tell you from previous experience if the ex girlfriend is still coming over and he doesn’t tell you especially getting a massage then all the signs are there. Trust me I drove myself mad telling myself it was me and my previous relationship casting doubt but I should of went with my gut. If he’s not man enough to tell you nothing happened then something happened. You better get out while you can. You can do all the research in the world but the reason most adhd relationships don’t work is bc they can’t keep their dick in their pants. Your never get the intimacy or attention your wanting. Your no longer new or fun. Some people can live with that for me I did two years. But then I finally decided after I went half crazy that I didn’t want a man that couldn’t get turned on by me but any given girl that flirted his way could get an him aroused.

  3. Does anyone else have the opposite problem? My husband has ADHD and he wants to have sex all of the time and is never satisfied. After learning more about ADHD I believe that he is like this because of the rush of dopamine that having sex provides for him. This has really impacted our marriage as I do not have the desire to have sex everyday and even though we have decided on having sex once a week, he still isn’t satisfied. It makes me feel inadequate and also annoyed that he is so obsessed with it. When I look this up though, I mostly read articles like this that talk about a lack of sex drive or focus. Maybe this is not ADHD related??

  4. Hi KaseyLu!

    I am a female with ADD which was diagnosed later in life. I am a hyper-sexual woman just like your husband. I take Dextroamphetamine which is just the generic of Adderall. I just started a new dose today. For me, the medication helps with my impulsivity including sexual impulses. It can be difficult to try to control them on my own because I know that I will more than likely give in to them. The different thoughts/images are exciting as well. Do not entertain any type of thoughts have you questioning yourself. ADD can affect so many different aspects of a person’s life that in turn affects the life of their spouse, children, etc. Impulse control can be very difficult for people with ADD/ADHD. Read this brief article, (you will probably have to copy and paste the URL in the search bar) It is titled Hyper-Sexuality, Sex Addiction and ADHD.

    My ADHD/no meds, male cousin and his wife are having serious marital issues. They have two children. They are now living separately due to cheating, feeling ignored, etc. Sadly, she doesn’t have a clear and in-depth understanding of ADHD and how it affects people. Everyone in the household is affected. She is now educating herself about the disorder to have a better understanding of her husband. Also, he needs to accept the diagnosis and take the necessary steps to address some of the accompanying issues.

    I hope this information is helpful to you!

  5. Why the insistence on gendered language? Don’t just as many women have ADD? So why automatically assume the man is the neurodivergent one and the woman is the nag?

  6. Can we PLEASE avoid the gender pronouns when talking about ADHD…. It’s these stereotypes that cause women like myself to go undiagnosed until well into adulthood, having spent 8 years misdiagnosed and treated for another condition.

    Also, not all relationships are heterosexual.
    This is so incredibly frustrating.

  7. This is the first article I’ve come across that addressed some of the sex and relationship issues experienced by people with Adhd. As a women in my 40s only coming to realize I have ADHD after my child was diagnosed, I find it such a relief to realize there is a reason behind my experiences – instead of me just being broken or strange.

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